"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Professor of History, Montgomery College
July 1, 2020
Shervin Taheran

High Standards at Issue for Saudi Nuclear Pact


U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry told reporters Sept. 26 that negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the United States on a civil nuclear cooperation agreement have slowed but are continuing. More recently, the diplomatic repercussions from the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi may impact U.S. policy and the complicate the ambitions of companies such as Westinghouse Electric for a U.S. role building nuclear power plants in the kingdom. State Department officials have said that the administration is pressing Saudi Arabia to commit to forgoing the ability to make nuclear fuel and to ratify stricter verification under the International Atomic Energy Agency’s additional protocol. The United Arab Emirates committed to this so-called gold standard in 2009 to obtain its civil nuclear pact with Washington. Perry, who is leading negotiations with Saudi Arabia, has not been so firm in his public statements, and Saudi Arabia has resisted these restrictions. (See ACT, April 2018.). Members of Congress continue to encourage the strictest standards for any agreement with Saudi Arabia, including pushing State Department officials on this issue at a Sept. 18 hearing, and have pressed for a floor vote on a bipartisan-approved Senate Foreign Relations Committee resolution calling for the “gold standard.” (See ACT, September 2018.)—SHERVIN TAHERAN

High Standards at Issue for Saudi Nuclear Pact

CTBT Grows Amid Calls on N. Korea to Join

October 2018
By Shervin Taheran

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has gained some renewed attention as nations called on North Korea to join the treaty as a way to demonstrate its sincerity in declaring an end to its nuclear testing.

CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo (2nd from right) looks on as the prime minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, signs the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on September 25.  With the addition of Tuvalu, the number of signatory states grew to 184. Thailand became the 167th country to ratify the CTBT. (Photo: CTBTO)Meanwhile, Thailand became the 167th country to ratify the CTBT. With the Sept. 25 signature by the island nation of Tuvalu, the number of signatories was brought to 184. But the treaty will not enter into force until it is ratified by the eight remaining nations listed in its Annex 2: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea, and the United States.

At a ministerial-level meeting of the “Friends of the CTBT” states Sept. 27, the foreign ministers of Australia and Japan, who co-chaired the meeting, and of Belgium, Finland, Iraq, Japan, and the Netherlands called on North Korea to ratify the CTBT.

The meeting reinforced a message sent to North Korea in June by the foreign ministers of Belgium and Iraq urging a “legally binding and irreversible end” to its nuclear testing, such as through the signature and ratification of the CTBT, as part of a denuclearization agreement. Belgium and Iraq are co-presidents of the 2017 Article XIV Conference on Facilitating the Entry Into Force of the CTBT and will continue in this role until the next Article XIV conference in 2019.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini reaffirmed this sentiment in remarks at the meeting, urging North Korea to join the CTBT “without delay.” She noted that verifying the closure of the North Korean nuclear test site “could benefit” from the technical assistance of Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

There has not been much public discussion about what the technical verification of the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear test site would look like, and questions remain about the roles of the CTBTO and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in such a process. At a Sept. 6 UN event marking the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo said that the organization is ready, if called upon, “to contribute to the process of verifiable denuclearization.”

Miroslav Lajčák, president of the UN General Assembly and Slovakia’s foreign minister, at the Sept. 6 event noted that North Korea’s decisions to suspend nuclear and missile tests were positive steps. Still, he said that signing and ratifying the CTBT “would lead to progress on the Korean peninsula.”

Thailand’s ratification is the last for a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) “thereby reaffirming ASEAN’s long term goal of making the region of Southeast Asia a nuclear-weapon-free zone,” said Virasakdi Futrakul, Thailand’s deputy foreign minister.

Thailand becomes 167th country to ratify the treaty.

Pence Envisions ‘Space Force’ by 2020

September 2018
By Shervin Taheran

Vice President Mike Pence announced on Aug. 9 that the Trump administration aims to create a Department of the Space Force by 2020, citing space as a growing conflict domain amid military advances by Russia and China that threaten U.S. dominance in that realm.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis (R) stands alongside U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who spoke about administration plans for a new military branch, to be called the Space Force, at the Pentagon on August 9. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)Pence’s speech at the Pentagon expanded on President Donald Trump’s June speech, in which he said just as the United States has an Air Force, “we are going to have the Space Force, separate but equal.”

Such a development likely will come with calls for additional military spending on personnel and space weapons, even as elements of Congress and the military leadership are cool to the Trump initiative. A new spending pipeline for offensive and defensive space weapons is an appealing prospect for defense contractors, an influential industry with lawmakers.

Pence said the administration is determined to act in order to “meet the emerging threats on this new battlefield.” There are few international restrictions on the weaponization of space, other than the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which bars states-parties from placing weapons of mass destruction in outer space and prohibits military activities on celestial bodies. Since the mid-1980s, the UN Conference on Disarmament has periodically debated provisions for a potential “prevention of an arms race in space treaty,” with the United States the dominant opponent of such a measure.

To prepare for creation of a new military branch, the administration plans to take four major actions in the next year: establish a Space Development Agency, affecting the Air Force’s Space and Missile Center; develop the Space Operations Force, to support the combatant commands; create a U.S. Space Command led by a four-star officer; and create a post of assistant secretary of defense for space, a senior civilian position.

Pence called for this new Department of the Space Force with a “secretary of the Space Force,” implying the creation of a military service alongside the departments of the Navy, Air Force, and Army. But Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, at a news media roundtable after the speech, said that “whether we call it a space corps or a department or a sixth branch, I think this goes to the next step, working with Congress.”

Much of the administration’s vision, most notably the creation of a sixth military branch, will require organizational and financial action by Congress. The administration plans to submit a legislative proposal by February for fiscal year 2020. Military services have powerful constituencies, and taking space activities away from the Air Force, if that is intended, could draw pushback.

Trump’s proposal has support among some House members, particularly Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee. Rogers and Cooper have long been vocal advocates of a new structure for the military’s space activities, noting in a joint statement that they “look forward to the establishment of a much-needed independent Space Force.”

In its version of the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, the House had included a “Space Corps” that would have been similar to the Navy Department’s Marine Corps in that it would be created as a unit within the Air Force. But the provision did not survive opposition from the Senate and the Pentagon. In a 2017 letter to Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wrote, “I do not wish to add a separate service that would likely present a narrower and even parochial approach to space operations.”

Mattis has since moved to align himself with the commander in chief, saying to reporters Aug. 12 that he “was not going against setting up a Space Force; what I was against was rushing to do that before we define those problems.” The Pentagon is “in favor of war-fighting capability organized along the lines of what the president has laid out,” he said.

Many members of Congress, however, remain dubious, especially as the Trump administration has yet to release the cost estimates. Shanahan declined to cite a specific estimate, but noted that it would likely be billions of dollars.

But the Trump vision faces legislative hurdles.

Pakistan Advances Sea Leg of Triad

Pakistan’s conducted its second test of the Babur-3 nuclear-capable, sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) in late March, more than a year after its first test, in January 2017. The continuing Pakistani development of the sea-based nuclear deterrent is a response to India’s triad of land-, sea-, and air-launched nuclear weapons. A Pakistani military statement, without citing India by name, states that the Babur-3 will provide a “credible second-strike capability, augmenting existing deterrence” especially in light of “provocative nuclear strategies and posture being pursued in the neighborhood through induction of nuclear submarines and ship-borne nuclear missiles.”

As with the 2017 test, the Babur-3 was reported by the Pakistani military to have an estimated range of 450 kilometers and to have “successfully” hit its target with “precise accuracy.” (See ACT, March 2017.) Slight differences include the military reporting that the missile launched from a “dynamic” underwater platform, rather than a “mobile” one, and video released by the military seems to confirm the missile ejecting horizontally, which could eventually lead to deployment through submarine torpedo tubes rather than a vertical launch system. The Babur-3 SLCM is widely expected to be carried on Pakistan’s diesel-powered Agosta 90B submarine.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

Pakistan Advances Sea Leg of Triad

North Korea Urged to Sign CTBT

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s statement announcing the closing of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site has led to calls for Pyongyang to sign and ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, noted in a statement that Kim’s announcement was a positive “long-sought-after” step toward several disarmament commitments and the ratification of the CTBT. Lassina Zerbo, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) executive secretary, called for North Korea to consider signing and ratifying the CTBT, noting that a legally binding treaty is the only way to “solidify the moratorium on nuclear testing.” The CTBTO “stands ready to assist,” he said in an statement April 21, and some experts have proposed having the body engage in confidence-building site visits to Punggye-ri. —SHERVIN TAHERAN

North Korea Urged to Sign CTBT

Five Chinese Test Detection Stations Certified

In just twelve months, China has certified its first five International Monitoring System (IMS) stations, of the twelve it is treaty-bound to certify in order to realize the completion of the global nuclear test detection system managed by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). China, as well as the United States, are two of eight countries left which need to ratify the CTBT for the 1996 treaty to enter into force. Both countries have signed, but not ratified, the treaty. The first Chinese IMS station, radionuclide station RN21, was certified in December 2016. The most recent...

China Adds Monitoring Stations

China has completed certification in the past year of its first five International Monitoring System (IMS) stations of the 12 it is obligated to certify toward the completion of the global nuclear test detection system managed by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). China is among the eight countries, including the United States, that need to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) for the 1996 treaty to enter into force. Both countries have signed but not ratified the treaty.

The first Chinese IMS station, radionuclide station RN21, was certified in December 2016. Two primary seismic stations and two additional radionuclide stations were certified during the September-December 2017 period. These stations “fill in an important geographical coverage gap in terms of event detection in the region,” according to a CTBTO press statement. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a statement that the CTBT is “an important pillar of international nuclear disarmament” and that China is “willing to deepen” its cooperation with the CTBTO.

The monitoring system is about 90 percent complete, with more than 290 stations certified. Once complete, the IMS will have 321 monitoring points, consisting of hydroacoustic, infrasound, seismic, and radionuclide stations and 16 laboratories worldwide.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

China Adds Monitoring Stations

Trump Administration Silent on CTBT

October 2017
By Shervin Taheran

At the UN Conference on Facilitating the Entry Into Force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) held Sept. 20, the sole U.S. representative sat silently as senior officials from other nations expressed support for the landmark 1996 accord.

The Trump administration, working without an undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, did not match the high level of representation exhibited by other governments and international organizations. Speakers included foreign ministers and other senior officials, such as EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, and Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

The U.S. silence is particularly notable because the Trump administration is conducting a Nuclear Posture Review, which may include the question of whether the country can adequately maintain its nuclear arsenal without test explosions. The last U.S. nuclear explosive test was Sept. 23, 1992, and many experts have concluded that testing is not necessary to maintain a reliable nuclear stockpile.

The Trump administration has yet to comment publicly about the CTBT, which the United States signed in 1996 but has not ratified. It has commended the CTBTO International Monitoring System and capabilities for detecting nuclear test explosions, notably in the April 7 joint communiqué on nonproliferation and disarmament by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other foreign ministers of the Group of Seven.

Although the Trump administration has requested full funding for the CTBTO, in line with previous years, some Republicans in Congress are aiming to “restrict” that funding. (See ACT, March 2017.)

The United States is one of eight countries, known as the “hold-out states,” that must ratify the treaty
before it can enter into force. The others are China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan. Of the eight, India, North Korea, and Pakistan have not taken the first step of signing the treaty.

Many nations at the session, informally known as the Article XIV conference, after the article in the treaty that advocates its convening, commended last year’s first UN Security Council resolution to specifically support the CTBT. A total of 42 countries, including Israel, co-sponsored Resolution 2310, which came 20 years after the treaty was opened for signature. (See ACT, October 2016.)

Yet, a reference to the resolution was absent in the final declaration of the conference, causing Mogherini to note, “We welcome the positive developments since the 2015 Article XIV conference . . . the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2310, which reaffirms the vital importance and urgency of achieving prompt entry into force of the treaty and its universalization. The European Union would have preferred to see a direct reference to this resolution in the final declaration.”

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons opened for signature the same morning as the Article XIV conference (See "Fifty States Sign Nuclear Weapons Ban," this issue), where the new accord was frequently mentioned in remarks by officials from countries supporting the new treaty.

Noting concerns among some of the member-states and signatories that the prohibition treaty is in conflict with the CTBT, Alexander Marschik, political director of the Austrian Foreign Ministry, said that the prohibition treaty text “recognizes the vital importance of the CTBT and its verification regime as a core element of the nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation architecture.”

“Its formulations regarding testing were very carefully drafted to ensure they are fully compatible with the CTBT,” he added. “Moreover, there is reason for hope that the success of the new prohibition treaty negotiations will create a positive impulse for our common objective here: the entry into force of the CTBT and the cessation of nuclear testing.”

China and Egypt were the only two “hold-out” states to speak at the conference, and neither offered a clear path on if or when they would ratify the CTBT. China’s statement only alluded to, but did not name, North Korea, the only country now conducting nuclear explosive testing.

Russia also took the opportunity to call out only the United States among the eight “hold-out” states, saying the “U.S. position,” as well as the doubtful effectiveness of the Article XIV process, could “undermine the hope” that the CTBT would eventually enter into force. “We have the impression that some states are satisfied with the current circumstances.”

The Article XIV conference was led by newly elected co-presidents Belgium and Iraq, which took over from Kazakhstan and Japan. Belgium and Iraq will continue in that role for two years until the next Article XIV conference, unless the treaty comes into force thereby eliminating the need for the conference.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

The United States withholds comment while the new administration reviews nuclear weapons policies.

2017 CTBTO Science & Technology Conference: Select Videos

Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization Dr. Lassina Zerbo (beginning at 1 hour and 10 minutes) provided closing remarks at the conclusion of the 2017 Science and Technology Conference in Vienna at the Hofburg Palace. He focused on the need for science alongside politics, for engagement between disciplines, and for involvement of youth to raise awareness of the treaty. Other key videos from the 5 day conference are noted below: Closing speech by Executive Secretary of the CTBTO Dr. Lassina Zerbo, June 30, 2017. (20 minutes) Keynote...

Amendment on CTBTO Funding Undermines Global Test Ban

An amendment to “restrict” all funding for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization—except for the International Monitoring System—was introduced by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act, based on Feb. 7 legislation introduced by Wilson and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). Also in the amendment is a declaration by Congress that UN Security Council Resolution 2310 passed Sept. 15, 2016 does not “obligate...nor does it impose an obligation on the United States to refrain from actions that would run counter to the object and purpose” of the CTBT,...


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